Noem celebrates tribal flag display, but only two of nine participating so far
The flags of the Standing Rock and Rosebud Sioux tribes, center, stand between the U.S. and South Dakota flags on Jan. 10, 2024, in the Capitol Rotunda in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/South Dakota Searchlight)
PIERRE — Governor Kristi Noem celebrated a new, permanent display of Native American tribal flags in the Capitol Rotunda on Wednesday, but only two of the nine tribes in the state have contributed flags so far.
The two tribal nations whose flags now hang in the Capitol are the Rosebud and Standing Rock Sioux tribes.
Crow Creek Sioux Tribe Chairman Peter Lengkeek attended the flag-raising ceremony even though his tribe is not currently allowing its flag to be displayed. He said the tribe won’t contribute its flag until the governor and legislators pass more laws and implement more policies that improve conditions on reservations.
“We want something tangible,” Lengkeek said. “We want our children protected in foster care, our missing women brought home.”
Noem announced her plan to raise the flags of the state’s nine tribes four years ago. In response, six of the nine tribal nations from across the state demanded their flags not be on display. No tribal flags went up in the Rotunda until Wednesday.
Noem’s relationships with the state’s tribal governments have been contentious at times.
She was at odds with some tribal leaders over their COVID-19 checkpoints on reservation borders during the worst of the pandemic. In response to her support of legislation cracking down on anti-oil pipeline protests, the Oglala Sioux Tribe temporarily banned her from the Pine Ridge Reservation. Last winter, some tribal leaders criticized Noem for an insufficient state response to a winter storm that killed at least six people on the Rosebud Reservation.
Sen. Shawn Bordeaux, D-Mission, is a member of the Rosebud Sioux Tribe and said the tribe shares the same goals as Crow Creek but is taking a different approach to the flag display.
“We’re not just saying you can hang our flag here,” Bordeaux said. “We expect reciprocity. Noem needed something she could point to and say, ‘Look what I’ve done for Natives.’”
Bordeaux said he is “optimistic and hopeful that all tribes will eventually hang their flags.”
Noem described the ceremony as a step toward better “government-to-government relations.” The event included traditional Native American prayers, songs and speeches emphasizing the need for continued dialogue and collaboration between the state and the tribes.
The governor’s chief of communications, Ian Fury, told South Dakota Searchlight that “these are only the first two to have brought their flags to the Capitol,” and the office expects more to come.
State Department of Tribal Relations Secretary David Flute, a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate, told South Dakota Searchlight that “the governor has been very diplomatic in her approach in working with tribes.” Flute described the multi-year effort of getting the flags in the Capitol as “some back and forth, some discussions and negotiations.”
“There’s been some turnover in tribal leadership,” Flute said. “Some of the sentiments have changed.”
Rep. Tyler Tordsen, R-Sioux Falls, is a member of the Sisseton Wahpeton Oyate. He said tribal members wanting to see more than symbolic gestures in Pierre should stay tuned.
“Discussions are happening,” Tordsen said. “Conversations are happening in the education space and the foster care system. You might see some legislation on that.”
State of the Tribes
Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribal Vice President Cyndi Weddell delivered the annual State of the Tribes address to legislators after the flag ceremony. Each year, a leader from one of the tribes in the state gives the address.
The speech focused on economic development.
“The future of the tribe depends on the ability to be self-sufficient,” Weddell said. “And to continue to grow the tribe’s economy in collaboration between the tribe, local, state and federal governments.”
Weddell highlighted Native Nations Cannabis, a medical marijuana dispensary she said employs 70 people, and the tribe’s gaming industry. She also celebrated successful partnerships with the state, like the development of a nursing home.
She called for the provisions of the federal Indian Child Welfare Act to be enshrined in state laws. The act aims to keep Indigenous foster children with their families and relatives in their own communities to preserve their culture and identity.
“All children should be put in safe, culturally appropriate homes,” Weddell said.
The speech came during the first week of the annual legislative session, which lasts until March.
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